Does “liking” a company online prevent you from being able to sue it in the future?

Here’s a disturbing revelation, once you download a brand’s discount coupon, or even do something trivial like “like” its Facebook page, you’ve just given up your right to ever sue the company, no matter what it does.

The New York Times reports today that foods brand General Mills has quietly added language to its website to let consumers know that once they participate in any sort of transaction with one of its brands, they can never sue the company for anything. Instead, consumers will have to go straight to arbitration or informal negotiation via email to settle a dispute.

These transactions can include downloading coupons, joining one of its online communities like Facebook or enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest.

The theory behind this is that once a consumer avails some benefit from a company’s product, they have implicity agreed to its terms and conditions. How liking a Facebook page is giving a consumer an explicit benefit is beyond my comprehension. But if other companies start doing this, it’s going to shift the balance unimaginably in favor of corporations as consumers will have even fewer ways of seeking recompense after being wronged by a company.

From NYT:

“Although this is the first case I’ve seen of a food company moving in this direction, others will follow — why wouldn’t you?” said Julia Duncan, director of federal programs and an arbitration expert at the American Association for Justice, a trade group representing plaintiff trial lawyers. “It’s essentially trying to protect the company from all accountability, even when it lies, or say, an employee deliberately adds broken glass to a product.”

General Mills declined to make anyone available for an interview about thechanges. “While it rarely happens, arbitration is an efficient way to resolve disputes — and many companies take a similar approach,” the company said in a statement. “We even cover the cost of arbitration in most cases. So this is just a policy update, and we’ve tried to communicate it in a clear and visible way.”

This is more than a little ridiculous, it’s shameful. While there could be a flimsy case made that by downloading a coupon, you’re willingly engaging in a transaction with the company, and are subject to its terms, but simply liking a Facebook page merely means you’re paying attention to what a company is saying, nothing else. A company’s Facebook page is not its house, or its property, it’s a shared platform, and to act as if it’s a beneficial transaction to the consumer isn’t just ludicrous, it’s downright evil.

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